Norfolk Academy pulled out all the stops on Thursday, November 10, for a special Convocation to express heartfelt appreciation to Dr. Jonathan Mark Zenilman, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, whose guidance and expertise helped the school navigate in-person schooling during the pandemic.
Although Dr. Zenilman spent countless hours on Zoom and conference calls with members of the school's Board of Trustees and Headmaster Dennis Manning, this visit was his first time on campus. The entire school community--1,200 students and 200 faculty and staff--assembled in Burroughs Gymnasium for a ceremony that included expressions of appreciation from students and school leaders, as well as music from the Upper School Chorus.
Dr. Zenilman was the keynote speaker, and he opened his address by telling the packed gymnasium that he typically spoke to about 20 graduate students. “You guys intimidate me!" he said jokingly. More seriously, he told students that when he signed on to help Norfolk Academy, there was no rule book for how to proceed or how to protect students.
He said, “I would love to help you, but at this time, I don't have the answers," he said. “What we think we know today will change, and we have to be prepared to change."
Starting in summer 2020, Dr. Zenilman provided leadership as Norfolk Academy created a thorough program of protocols that included regular Covid testing, contact tracing, masking, and ventilation that allowed students to learn on campus every day at a time when many other schools were forced to be online. Dr. Zenilman credited the students and teachers who went through the regular testing, noting that commitment was crucial. He also credited school leaders who he said came to him by asking what needed to be done to keep school open at a time when many campuses were closed. “You have made this successful," he said.
Honor Council Chair Anna Russell '23 noted that her sophomore volleyball season practices were outside and she did not have a choir to sing with that year because of the pandemic. Yet she remained thankful because she was able to go to school and be with friends and teachers every day.
“I can confidently say that the team covered all sides of the Covid-19 crisis," she said.
Senior Class President Lucas Knapp '23 said the pandemic upended just about every aspect of his life. The one constant was being with his school friends and finding comfort learning on campus.
“We must never forget the importance of our community," he said.
While the school initially had arrange to compensate Dr. Zenilman, he told the school fairly early over the more than two years of consultations that he would donate his service to the school free of charge. At the Convocation, Mr. Manning lauded Dr. Zenilman's generosity, and he announced the establishment of a scholarship named for Dr. Zenilman that will provide funding for a student to attend the school.
The school also honored Trustee Guy R. Friddell III '69, whose “insatiable" appetite for research and tireless approach to Covid research led the school to Dr. Zenilman. Board of Trustees President Alfred M. Randolph Jr. presented Mr. Friddell with a doctor's white coat.
“Without his relentless tenacity, we would not be where we are today," Mr. Randolph said.